If you’re like many of the members around the world, you joined Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills. Once you were a member, you learned about leadership development opportunities.
When people first join Toastmasters, they concentrate on achieving their initial goals. Members who remain involved for a while start to see that the organization and its learning opportunities exist far beyond the club. The name Toastmasters International doesn’t just mean there are thousands of clubs around the world—actually more than 16,000 at the moment—it also means the growth and connection opportunities are as vast as the organization’s global network.
I joined Toastmasters in June 1995 to understand how to infuse creativity into my speeches. I attained that goal long ago. I’m still a member because of the ongoing and unexpected benefits and learning opportunities, a motivation to help others, and the relationships I continue to develop.
If you stay in Toastmasters, you will see that your journey doesn’t end when you finish an educational milestone. In fact, these long-term members will tell you it’s just a first step.
Focusing on Mentoring and Leadership
Françoise Le Reste, DTM, of Eloquence 45 Club in Orléans, France, joined Toastmasters in March 1991. She wanted to feel at ease speaking in front of people. After she finished the first manual in the former education program, she achieved that goal. She remains a member 30 years later because of mentoring and leadership opportunities.
Le Reste credits her past mentor—former District 59 Director and longtime member Odile Petillot, DTM—for expanding her understanding of the Toastmasters universe. Based on Petillot’s encouragement, Le Reste attended a Toastmasters conference in Paris. “My eyes opened … members from all countries of Europe sharing the same vision in an atmosphere full of kindness, gentleness, and real friendship.”
Because of the mentoring she received, Le Reste was inspired to pay it forward. Among numerous other roles, she has served as a mentor to many young members and as a club coach. Toastmasters also increased her self-confidence and range of skills. She now enjoys speaking to audiences of all sizes and leading teams to organize conferences and other large-scale events. She even gained some unexpected skills. “I have managed to avoid or solve conflicts that I would not have dreamed of had I not been a Toastmaster,” says Le Reste.
Achieving Beyond Expectations
Karen Levy Strauss, DTM, from the Standard Bank Operations Club in Johannesburg, South Africa, has also grown in unexpected ways. When she joined Toastmasters in April 2000, she was leaving a verbally abusive marriage, parenting two young children, and working in a demanding job. She wanted to strengthen her communications skills in a safe and fun environment.
Initially, Levy Strauss focused on the public speaking educational track. She relished the club environment, which felt like a family. Her first club—Gold Reef Toastmasters, also in Johannesburg—hosted social events like cookout contests and wine tours.
I’m still a member because of the ongoing and unexpected benefits and learning opportunities, a motivation to help others, and the relationships I continue to develop.
After two years, Levy Strauss completed the first communications educational milestone and started to volunteer for Speechcraft® and Youth Leadership programs and many other club development activities. She says what’s surprised her the most is “how vast the learning experience is at all levels and how willing others are to share their expertise, networks, and knowledge so freely.”
Along the way, she boosted her self-confidence and self-esteem. “Throughout my Toastmaster’s experience, the encouragement, constructive feedback, and people believing in my potential pushed me way beyond what I believed I could ever achieve within Toastmasters and my professional and personal life,” says Levy Strauss. She was promoted twice in a three-year period at work and credits the confidence and skills she built in Toastmasters.
Similar to Le Reste, Levy Strauss remains a member to keep her skills sharp and pay it forward. She loves giving back and watching people grow to their full potential. She also maintains friendships, including those she built more than 20 years ago at her first club.
Learning Unexpected Skills
Strong relationships have inspired Jenny Au, DTM, from Anchorvale CC club in Singapore, to stay in Toastmasters too. Au joined in July 2005 to conquer stage fright and instead gained “stage pride.” She wanted to improve her communications and leadership skills for her training and consulting career.
She met those goals by completing the education program. With increased confidence, she volunteered for a wide range of club and District leadership positions. Those experiences gave her more than she expected. “I did not anticipate that the Toastmasters platform provides an avenue in which I could learn a lot about teamwork and coordination, including the value of relationship building,” says Au.
She attributes her success in club and District programming to effective cooperation and strong relationships within her Toastmasters teams, which resulted in respect and trust. She continues to apply the lessons she’s learned and skills she developed to her Toastmasters activities, professional projects, and daily life.
Making Lifetime Friends
Skill-building and relationships have also kept Graham Cairns, DTM, connected to Toastmasters. A self-described “Toastmasters addict,” Cairns is a member of six clubs: Forex and Leading Edge Toastmasters, both in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, and four online clubs.
When he first joined, he was solely focused on his club. “I didn’t see the incredible diversity that Toastmasters offers,” he says. “Now, I try to visit new clubs on a regular basis—especially when traveling. I have adopted the principle that if I can’t visit my own clubs due to distance, I will visit someone else’s.”
He joined Toastmasters in September 1981 when he was a young radio announcer. He was comfortable behind the microphone, but not in front of a live audience. “I just wanted my tongue to stop flopping around in my mouth like a killer whale’s fluke,” he says. He quickly achieved that goal and began competing in Toastmasters speech contests and volunteering for leadership roles.
In 1995, Cairns and his family moved half a continent away, and he stepped away from Toastmasters. When he changed jobs in September 2015, he rejoined to continue strengthening his skills and pay it forward.
The relationships he built at the start of his Toastmasters journey were still there. In fact, more than 40 years later, the person who convinced him to attend his first Toastmasters meeting is still a mentor and friend.
I have benefited from Toastmasters relationships too. When I moved from the Washington, D.C., area to Budapest, Hungary, for a new job, I didn’t know the culture, the language, or anyone who lived there. But when I walked into the Budapest Toastmasters club meeting, I felt at home. I also obtained a short-term consulting project in Azerbaijan because of a Toastmasters connection. And it was the Toastmaster magazine that gave me my first byline.
The power of Toastmasters is the extent of the growth, opportunities, and experiences it offers and the diversity of its worldwide membership. The longer you’re involved, the more you will tap into it.
So, stay awhile. The whole wide world of Toastmasters awaits.
Do you know someone who might benefit from joining Toastmasters? Share the video below to show them how Toastmasters can help them build confidence and meet personal and professional goals.
Jennifer L Blanck, DTM is a member of 5 Star Toastmasters in Arlington, Virginia, and a regular contributor to the Toastmaster magazine. Learn more at www.jenniferlblanck.com.